Skip to main content

Full text of "The History Of Western Education"

See other formats


hour had not yet come. There were still intervals of peace
during which culture enjoyed a temporary prosperity. But as
we gather from the correspondence and poems of Sidonius, it
was a culture that owed its existence for the most part to the
past, and was no longer being renewed in the schools. It is
doubtful, indeed, whether even in 430, the date of his birth, the
schools of higher learning were any longer in existence. They
may have been, but there is not a single unmistakable reference
to them in the writings of Sidonius or his contemporaries. Such
education as was still going on seems to have been confined to a
narrow circle of people, and to have been carried on in the privacy
of the home under individual tutors. With the ascendancy of
the Franks in the next century, even this private education had
almost wholly come to an end. Our witness here is Gregory,
Bishop of Tours and historian of the Franks (circa 540-594).
His own education had been of the most meagre description.
He tells us that his teacher Avitus, a priest, had never taught
him grammar or made him read the profane authors, and he
confesses frankly that he himself was too ignorant of letters to
be able to write with grammatical correctness. In this respect,
his case was in no way exceptional. " The cultivation of liberal
studies/' he writes in the Preface of his History of the Franks,
is declining, or rather dying out, in the cities of Gaul. ... It
was impossible to find a single person instructed in dialectic or
in grammar who was capable of recounting these facts in prose
or verse. Most of them lamented it and said, ' Woe to our age,
for the study of letters has died out among us/ " It is true
that he speaks of certain " men of letters" (literati), whose
criticism he anticipates, but seemingly their equipment was a
knowledge of Martianus Capella and nothing more. Taking
everything into account, then, it is difficult to believe that
grammar and rhetoric continued to be taught in the schools
of Gaul till the end of the Seventh Century, as some have main-
tained. If there were schools at all, the " letters " taught in
them were not the classics, but the elementary arts of reading
and writing, To that, at the most, education had been reduced
in the once cultured Gaul.

What happened in Gaul happened nearly everywhere else
in the West. In a few generations, secular learning had almost
ceased to exist and the schools of Rome had gone the way of the